Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembering the fallen of the First World War

Thousands of people attended the recent Remembrance Day commemorations across Cornwall and I was honoured to be able to lay a wreath at my local war memorial in St Enoder Churchtown.

It is right that we remember the dead from all conflicts but, as we continue to mark the centenary of the First World War, it is especially important that we all learn more about the war which engulfed the globe between 1914 and 1918 and led to the tragic deaths of millions, leaving no community untouched.

Each year, the fallen are remembered when the names on local war memorials are read out. But I think we need to do more. It is not enough to just remember the names of those who died. We should know more about who they were, what they did in their lives, what happened to them, and the consequences of their deaths for their families and friends. In short, we should know the human story behind each and every name.

Looking back, some sixty servicemen from my home area of Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt did not return home from WW1. The majority of these men died in the final three years of the war, though four lost their lives – 100 years ago – in 1915.

The first of these was William Ephraim Dunstan. A china clay labourer, he was born in Canada in 1884 to Cornish parents though his family returned to mid Cornwall when he was a small child. He served in the 6th battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was killed on 31st July during a “liquid fire” flamethrower attack on British positions at Zouave Woods near Ypres. His body was never recovered.

Richard Enoder Tonkin was killed on 7th August. Born in Fraddon in 1892, his family emigrated to New Zealand when he was a child and settled in Auckland. Prior to the conflict, he worked as a fireman on a local railway. Richard served with the Otago Regiment and was killed in a battle on the Gallipoli peninsula. He is buried in the Chunuk Bair Cemetery in Turkey, which contains the remains of 632 Commonwealth servicemen of which only ten have named graves. Richard is one of the ten.

William Henry Hare of Fraddon lost his life on 13th August when the transport ship Royal Edward was torpedoed en route to the Dardenelles. An older man at 47, he had only enlisted with the Army Service Corps in the previous month. Born in Truro, he moved east to work in the clay industry and had become a wall mason. He was a married man with three daughters.

The fourth local casualty in 1915 was 18 year old William Pearce from Indian Queens. A trooper in the Royal North Devon Hussars, he also served in the Gallipoli campaign but died on 3rd November of dysentery. He was aboard the hospital ship H. M. Kildonan Castle at the time of his death and was buried at sea.

It is so important that everyone is remembered and it is to be welcomed that the Royal British Legion, working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, has launched an initiative to ensure that every single man and woman from across the Commonwealth who died is individually commemorated by people alive today.

The project is called Every Man Remembered, but it also incorporates Every Woman Remembered as over 800 women died in the conflict. To find out more, see:

[This will be my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

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